Search engine optimization is much like a very large single parent family with a bunch of overachieving children. Each child is trying to get the attention of the one parent. In this case, the parent is Google.
One by one, the children (websites) stand on their head, get endorsements from some of the other children, improve the quality of their conversation, and become more giving by sharing more of their knowledge rather than keeping it to themselves.
All of this is done to gain favor with the parent so that when someone needs one of the children, the parent puts the overachieving child at the front of the line.
But there are some children who want to be first by bending the rules. So rather than eating healthy, drinking milk, and naturally growing stronger, they purchase stilts. The parent sees how much more quickly they are growing than the other children so they put the artificially taller child in the front of the line when someone needs something.
While the other children may feel cheated by their scrupulous sibling, rest assured they are cheated! Why would the parent reward these acts? Well, the parent has so many children that it cannot possibly monitor each and every one. But over time, the parent realizes some of its children do cheat so it modifies its selective process for picking the best child for a task. Slowly, the kid on stilts is pushed to the back of the line. Or the child is outright punished and thus kicked out of the line all together. The child enjoyed a good run at the top, but now he is out of the running completely.
Right now your law firm is competing against cheaters. Your competitors are engaging in link exchanges, paid links, blog comment link spam, throwaway domains and link schemes. Some of them are acting with complete disregard for Google's Terms and their websites are possibly ranking higher than yours. In fact, when we did an internal review, we found at least two cheaters in EVERY market that we optimize a law firm's website. At least two! On a Google page for a lawyer search with 10 listings, 20 percent are ranking on top by using link exchange schemes and/or paid links. Those are the most popular violations.
This probably makes you mad enough to hit something. But before you go stomping through your house looking for objects to kick, keep Fido outside where he will be safe until you calm down, and let's look at some of the ways Google has dealt with cheaters over the last couple of years.
Since Google has billions of websites in their index, individually banning unruly sites is time consuming. It is much easier to make those websites irrelevant by modifying their algorithm.
Some website owners were creating long tail pages with almost identical information. Why have a page about “Tennis Shoes” when you could also have a page about “White Tennis Shoes” or “White Tennis Shoes with Rubber Souls” or “White Tennis Shoes with Rubber Souls that Will not Cause Blisters”? You get the point. A lot of pages with different titles and similar content. In May of 2010, Google released an update that sent these long tail keyphrase pages to the back row.
In September of 2011, Google released Panda 2.5 following the February Panda and April Panda 2. The Panda updates have been a huge nuisance to lazy copywriters on the web. Many websites that banked on using copy from other websites saw significant drops in ranking and traffic. One of the websites that reported significant drops in traffic was Demand Media's eHow.com. Demand Media (NYSE: DMD) opened the year trading north of $20 per share. Before Christmas, they were closer to $8. The company released a statement saying, “Recent search engine algorithm changes have negatively impacted search driven traffic to some of our websites, including eHow.com, resulting in moderately lower year-to-date page view growth.”
In their defense, eHow.com's users are more to blame than Demand Media. The duplicate copy their users posted to their website is the reason for the algorithm's punishment.
Think about that for a moment. Your competitors are trusting search engine optimization companies to improve their website's rankings. Most of your legal colleagues are not knowingly cheating the link system but the company they pay certainly is.
At the end of the day, Google's algorithm simply does not care. A website that is cheating through a third party is no different than a website cheating through the site owner.
A cheater is a cheater and history suggests that all high-ranking cheaters in Google Search eventually come tumbling down.